You know how teachers tell writers to “consider the audience” and business trainers tell writers to think about “what’s appropriate for a given writing situation”? Well, it occurred to me the other day that what this all means is that good writers need to be more like empathic metamorphs.
Metamorphs, as featured in the Star Trek (TNG) episode “The Perfect Mate,” are empathic beings who live to please others and become the perfect mate by knowing exactly what their partners want.
In Star Trek, the allure of the metamorph is about sex and romance, of course, but if you apply the same concepts to writing, it can be about safety.
Here’s a clip:
The safest thing you can do as a writer is to figure out what kind of writing your audience expects. Sometimes, especially in business writing, you can actually mimic someone’s writing, and by doing so, you’ll almost never go wrong. Just as studies have shown you can do well in an interview by mimicking the interviewer’s body language (but not always), you can also do well by mimicking your boss’s or colleague’s writing style.
People are often unsure about what’s appropriate in daily business writing. Is it okay to use text messaging abbreviations in a work e-mail? Do I need to use a formal signature in every message I send? Do I have to sign my full name every time?
If you want to be safe, be like a metamorph: sense what your writing partners want by being attuned to their way of looking at the world. Kamala, the metamorph in “The Perfect Mate,” spoke thoughtfully to Captain Picard and roughly to the miners in the bar. Similarly, you can mimic the style of the person you are writing to. If they write formally, you write formally. If they use text messaging abbreviations, throw in a “thx” every once in a while.
When you get settled in or feel more sure about what’s appropriate, it’s fine to develop your own writing style and stop mimicking everyone; but mimicry can be a great tool when you’re uncertain about a situation or a co-worker’s expectations.
Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of the New York Times best-seller Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.